Editor's note: This is the second essay of a three-part series (parts one and three can be found here) that examines the major challenges facing education reformers. The author adapted these essays from his keynote address at the Yale School of Management’s Education Leadership Conference in April.

In my last column, I wrote about the policy problem we face as people fighting for change in the education space. But that’s only part of what ails our reform effort.

We also have a political problem.

By that, I mean our policies have not reached a scale where they cannot easily be undone, or a breadth where their diversity of support makes them easier to get behind. And make no mistake, the threat posed by these conditions is as real as it is existential.

Politics is a numbers game, and you need politicians to actually change how the public square interacts with the policies we hold close. So let’s be honest—when a politician reviews your proposal, he or she is asking a fundamental and self-interested question: Does this get me more friends or make me more enemies?

If the answer is that something consistently makes more enemies, it’s going to...

As I travel the country, working with educators and policymakers on improving services for gifted students, I’m usually struck by two themes, one encouraging and the other worrisome. On the positive side, people are starting to understand that advanced achievement matters and have become passionate about addressing excellence gaps—the yawning divides in advanced achievement between various racial and socioeconomic groups. But on the negative side, I’m routinely disappointed by how often that enthusiasm fades when we start talking about solutions. The conversation goes something like this:

Ability grouping? “Not in our district, people don’t believe in it.” Universal screening? “Too expensive.” Use of local norms? “Politically tricky. Pass.” Teacher and administrator training? “Preparation programs will never do it, and we don’t have the bandwidth at the district level.” And the kicker, which is so common that I’ve become numb to it: “This is an important topic, but my urban/rural district doesn’t have any bright kids” (a comment I’ve heard from principals, superintendents, and even a state school chief).

So although we have research-based strategies that shrink excellence gaps and raise overall levels of excellence, we rarely see a district tackle this problem.

This phenomenon has grown so frustrating for me...

Linda Darling-Hammond, smart as she is, doubtless has many fresh thoughts and insights. In her new book series on “empowered educators,” however, after bringing in a sizable body of information on how other countries go about it, she and a number of colleagues recycle many of their sturdiest old thoughts and insights. Subtitled “how high-performing systems shape teaching quality around the world,” they—under the aegis of a Stanford policy center and Marc Tucker’s National Center on Education and the Economy—describe in depth (via a 280-page overview treatise and multiple supplemental volumes) “how seven international educational systems create a coherent set of policies designed to ensure quality teaching in all communities.”

Intrepid, they journey to some of American educators’ favorite locations—Shanghai, Singapore, Finland, and various parts of Canada and Australia—and do a swell job of describing the ways that teaching in those places is more professional, more respected, better compensated, more highly trained, more sensibly structured as a career, and overall more effective than in the United States. If you’ve followed Linda’s and Marc’s previous work, nothing here will surprise you—though you may yet learn plenty—and there’s no reason to doubt the accuracy of their accounts and explanations.

The issue...

Alex Medler

A recent Fordham Institute study, Three Signs That a Proposed Charter School Is at Risk of Failing, compared the details of charter school applications to the performance of the resulting schools. According to authors Anna Nicotera and David Stuit, schools trying to implement “child-centered” models were more likely to struggle academically than schools pursuing other models.

There weren’t many such schools in the study, so it’s a better prompt for discussions about their issues than “proof” of anything. That said, I wasn’t surprised by its results. They echoed my experience as an authorizer and a researcher.

It’s important to first note that what makes a school “child-centered” is not rigidly defined, and some schools from every model have been more successful than others. Several well-known versions, like Montessori and Waldorf, primarily serve younger kids. Other models, like the Big Picture and Expeditionary Learning, serve older students. The details of these programs vary depending on the grades they serve and their founders’ philosophies. Generally, however, their students are actively working to direct their own learning, and teachers guide or facilitate this experience, rather than being responsible for delivering pre-established content. Child-centered schools, whatever they do, tend to avoid a single,...

Almost seven years after the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were originally developed and adopted, inquiring minds want to know: Have they improved educational outcomes for students? Dr. Morgan Polikoff explores this very question in a recently published article, “Is Common Core “Working?” And where does Common Core Research Go from Here?.” It’s part of a broader AERA Open special topic on Common Core.

Polikoff’s article summarizes existing research in two key areas: how well Common Core has been implemented to date; and how it has affected student results. Neither question, it turns out, is especially easy to answer.

While measuring implementation at scale is challenging, research suggests that Common Core has increased states’ sharing of instructional resources and opportunities, such as professional development offerings. Polikoff also cites several informative teacher surveys conducted by organizations such as RAND and the Center on Education Policy that assess whether content and instruction is truly Common Core-aligned. In sum, these surveys reveal that, as recently as 2015, “large proportions” of math and English language arts and literacy teachers still had misconceptions about Common Core, “suggesting that their instruction is likely to be questionably aligned at best.” (Fordham came to similar conclusions in...

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was intended to improve student health and reduce childhood obesity by increasing the minimum nutritional standards that schools must meet. Despite its good intentions, the changes mandated by this act were met with immediate backlash. In response to the criticism and as part of its commitment to repeal a host of Obama-era regulations, the Trump administration recently put a stop to some of the new standards.

But could returning to the days of anything-goes in school cafeterias negatively impact student achievement? The results from a recent NBER study suggest it’s possible. In the past, analyses of school meals have been limited to examinations of whether providing meals can increase test scores (it does). This study is unique because it investigates whether the nutritional quality of meals can boost test scores.

The researchers examined a dataset of California public elementary, middle, and high schools that report state test results. From there, they determined whether these schools had a contract with a private meal provider. In total, approximately 143 districts overseeing 1,188 schools—12 percent of California’s public schools—did so, contracting with a total of forty-five different vendors. The remaining 88 percent of...

Editor's note: This is the first essay of a three-part series (parts two and three can be found here) that examines the major challenges facing education reformers. The author adapted these essays from his keynote address at the Yale School of Management’s Education Leadership Conference in April.

I voted for President Barack Obama twice and pulled the lever for Hillary Clinton last fall. I also know Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and was one of the few folks to support her nomination.

I’ve worked with business groups in New York and moms and dads in New Jersey to raise the bar for our kids. I worked on New Jersey’s teacher evaluation framework and helped pass its tenure law TEACH NJ with the state’s teachers unions. I’ve supported public charter schools alongside the thousands of New York and New Jersey families whose children fill them.

I grew up in the same neighborhood Freddie Gray did in Baltimore, and I went to private school on a scholarship, so I also support vouchers and tax credits, fiercely.

All of this is to say I believe in education reform, in all its flavors, and I’ve worked with all sorts of people, from all...

As more and more elite independent schools price themselves out of the upper-middle class parent market, as more of their traditional distinguishing features—things like honors courses, ample Advanced Placement offerings, library and technology access, small classes, oodles of art and music—get picked up by ever more district and charter schools, and as selective colleges seek to fill their entering classes with more variegated kids from a wider array of high schools, many private schools are struggling to devise new ways of setting themselves apart from the masses (and, presumably, justifying their lofty price tags).

These schools are now awash in internships and expeditions to destinations near and far, esoteric summer opportunities, Chinese, Russian, and Arabic language classes, dance and theater and more. Nothing wrong with any of those, and I’m all for maximizing the variety of quality school choices available to students—the more so as states enact voucher and tax-credit scholarship programs that draw more families closer to affording private options. And it’s surely a fine thing that some private schools are getting out of their stodgy education ruts—in which surprisingly little has changed in fifty years save for the arrival of computers—and seeking worthy innovations.

But please let us...

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have already submitted plans to the U.S. Department of Education to meet their obligations under the Every Student Succeeds Act, and the remaining thirty-four will do likewise in September. These publicly available documents describe, among other things, how the state intends to hold its schools accountable, including, in most cases, how it will calculate annual summative school ratings.

Unfortunately, many of the first batch of plans overemphasize “status measures” that are correlated with pupil demographics and/or prior achievement. Mainly they rely on test-based academic “proficiency” and (for high schools) graduation rates. While a certain amount of weight should be placed on such indicators, overweighting them in summative grading systems will cause almost all high-poverty campuses to fail for the simple, beyond-their-control reason that the pupils they enroll tend to enter school behind their more prosperous age-mates.

Growth measures, on the other hand, are more poverty-neutral gauges of school performance. They look at the trajectory of achievement over time, regardless of where students start the year. Such metrics should be the primary component of annual school ratings. What policymakers should care most about when evaluating schools is whether they’re giving their students an upward...

My first job out of college was in a construction company. I was hired as the office manager, receptionist, typist, and gofer. But I also transported enormous saw blades, delivered Christmas gifts to our best customers, called deadbeat clients to ask them politely but firmly when they were going to pay up, and even directed traffic on a busy commuter road during summer rush hour once in a while.

I graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in creative writing.

I had pursued that field of study because I wanted to be a writer and the English department at Ohio State University was pretty fertile ground for that. I took seminar classes from poets and award-winning short-story writers. Passed ’em all, too. I evolved from a lover of pulpy science fiction to an aspiring writer of literary fiction. It was thinky and boho and maybe even pretentious occasionally. The work was important, and we were all going to be the next great novelist, poet, or essayist.

And then I graduated. And life called me to dust and driving and deadlines. And you might think that nothing about my four years as an English major or my hard-earned degree mattered. Certainly...